Saturday 11 April 2020

#CBR12 Book 18: "Get a Life, Chloe Brown" by Talia Hibbert

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Official book description:
Chloe Brown is a chronically ill computer geek with a goal, a plan, and a list. After almost—but not quite—dying, she’s come up with seven directives to help her “Get a Life”, and she’s already completed the first: finally moving out of her glamorous family’s mansion. The next items?

• Enjoy a drunken night out.
• Ride a motorcycle.
• Go camping.
• Have meaningless but thoroughly enjoyable sex.
• Travel the world with nothing but hand luggage.
• And... do something bad.

But it’s not easy being bad, even when you’ve written step-by-step guidelines on how to do it correctly. What Chloe needs is a teacher, and she knows just the man for the job.

Redford ‘Red’ Morgan is a handyman with tattoos, a motorcycle, and more sex appeal than ten-thousand Hollywood heartthrobs. He’s also an artist who paints at night and hides his work in the light of day, which Chloe knows because she spies on him occasionally. Just the teeniest, tiniest bit.

But when she enlists Red in her mission to rebel, she learns things about him that no spy session could teach her. Like why he clearly resents Chloe’s wealthy background. And why he never shows his art to anyone. And what really lies beneath his rough exterior…

This is another one of those books that have come highly recommended on a number of blogs, as well as by a number of Cannonballers whose opinions I trust. It became available in an e-book sale at the start of March, and fit nicely with my #BlackHistoryMonth goal of reading more by and about black women (I'm fully aware of my privilege as a middle-class, middle-aged white woman and I know I still read far too many books both by and about mostly white characters with a very similar background to my own, but I am trying to expand my horizons, I really am), I dove right in.

Get a Life, Chloe Brown deserves all the positive reviews it's been getting. It's a lovely little romance, and it was even better for featuring a plus-size, chronically ill character, who at no point in the story is in any way suddenly magically healed by her romantic encounters, or made to feel like she's worth any less because she's ill. Since being diagnosed with fibromyalgia, she's lost a lot of her support network, including a boyfriend and most of her regular friends. She's been isolating herself for far too long, and after a near-death experience, she decides things need to change. She loves making lists (and they help her when her short term memory is muddled from the meds she frequently has to take) and she makes a special to-do-list. She moves into a new flat and immediately ends up in conflict with Redford, the handsome super of the building.

A few months later, she's had a few more mortifying encounters with Red (she's also spied on him painting at night), but not really made much progress with her "Get a Life" list. She offers to design a new website for Red in return for help with some of the items on the list. The two fairly quickly discover that the animosity that exists between them because of their first meetings are mainly down to misunderstandings, and it doesn't take long before they are fast friends, quickly moving towards something more.

Both Chloe and Red have supportive families, but emotional baggage from their pasts. While working together to cross off items on Chloe's list, it also becomes clear that Red needs to reevaluate his current choices and decide whether he wants to relaunch his painting career or do something else. It's very obvious that he's not content being a building superintendent. Of course, their pasts cause some friction along the way to the HEA but nothing that annoyed me too much, and there is suitable and appropriate groveling from the protagonist responsible.

This is the first in a series, with Chloe's younger sisters being the stars of the other books. While her sisters are nice supporting characters, one of them has an annoying quirk where she uses the wrong word and her sisters keep going "don't you mean ...?" A whole book with a heroine doing that is likely to drive me nuts. Nevertheless, based on this book, I will absolutely read more of Hibbert's books.

Judging a book by its cover: Whether I like it or not, the publishing world has clearly decided that cutesy cartoon covers are the standard for contemporary romance now, until the next trend comes along to replace it. This cover, though, I really like.  Chloe and Red look so cozy, and the reader can see that Chloe really is a big woman (which isn't really focused on in the story at all, another thing I really liked). The cat in the background is obviously also very appropriate.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Thursday 9 April 2020

#CBR12 Book 17: "Not the Girl You Marry" by Andie J. Christopher

Page count: 320 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Official book description:
Jack Nolan is a gentleman, a journalist, and unlucky in love. His viral success has pigeon-holed him as the how-to guy for a buzzy, internet media company instead of covering hard-hitting politics. Fed up with his fluffy articles and the app-based dating scene as well, he strikes a deal with his boss to write a final piece de resistance: How to Lose a Girl. Easier said than done when the girl he meets is Hannah Mayfield, and he's not sure he wants her to dump him.

Hannah is an extremely successful event planner who's focused on climbing the career ladder. Her firm is one of the most prestigious in the city, and she's determined to secure her next promotion. But Hannah has a bit of an image problem. She needs to show her boss that she has range, including planning dreaded, romantic weddings. Enter Jack. He’s the perfect man to date for a couple weeks to prove to her boss that she’s not scared of feelings.

Before Jack and Hannah know it, their fake relationship starts to feel all too real—and neither of them can stand to lose each other. 

Remember back in the early 2000s (soo long ago now), when both Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey were big names in romantic comedies, and then they did one together - How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days? Hudson is the bored women's magazine writer having to write "How to" pieces and desperately wanting more serious jobs. She needs a guy she can date and drive away using all the classic mistakes women tend to make in the dating world and will write an article at the end of it all. McConaughey's character is an ad exec who wants a particular job and needs to convince his boss he can make any woman fall in love with him. His work rivals set him up to ask Hudson's character out. He needs a woman to stay with him for at least two weeks, she needs a guy she can drive away. Lots of hijinks ensue and of course, they fall in love over the course of the movie.

Andie J. Christopher takes the nearly 17 year old rom com and gender-swaps it. Jack is the guy who has to write one last "How to" website article, while Hannah needs to prove to her boss that she's in a serious, going places relationship, so she can prove she knows romance and can be trusted to plan weddings. Hannah has had a number of unsuccessful dating experiences in her past, with her last long-term boyfriend burning her deeply by saying she's "not the girl you marry". She has a deeply cynical view of men and dating. Jack, on the other hand, is a bit of a serial monogamist. He falls deeply and tries to be the ultimate partner for any woman he's with. Unfortunately, sooner or later, the women he's dated in the past get bored and move on. He's instantly smitten with Hannah when they meet at a bar, especially because she's so determined to be unimpressed by his good looks and charm.

I really did how well Hannah's cynicism and insecurities was explained in the story. A lot of guys in her past were far too interested in her simply because of her biracial heritage, and she keeps feeling like she's not enough of either side of her background. She feels like her ex dumped her because she wasn't black enough, while at other times in her life, she felt left out because she wasn't white enough.

For much of the book, the two protagonists blatantly lie, deceive and use the other, which took away some of my enjoyment of the story. Ms. Christopher writes the book from the alternating POVs of Jack and Hannah, so the reader comes to understand both of their motivations, but it was still hard to root for two characters who were basically entering into a romantic relationship on a series of lies. Truth be told, while I have always been a huge fan of romantic comedies and am so happy that the genre is having a resurgence (thank Netflix!), How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days was nowhere near one of my favourites. So I probably was never going to adore a book based on the same premise.

As February was Black History Month, I wanted to read more books written by and about diverse black women. I chose to read mostly romance because even back in February (it seems like years ago and we had absolutely no idea what was coming), I needed comforting reads with guaranteed happy endings. This was the first of several, by no means my favourite, but well-written enough that I will absolutely check out other books by Christopher in the future.

Judging a book by its cover: Like pretty much all contemporary romances out there at the moment, this one has a cute cartoony cover. The story is a gender-swapped version of the movie, the cover heavily mirrors at least one of the more well-known film posters (although I don't remember the dog). The poses of the characters on the cover are pretty much identical to those of the actors on the posters. I hadn't noticed that at first, and it's a nice touch.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Friday 3 April 2020

#CBR12 Book 16: "A Big Surprise for Valentine's Day" by Jackie Lau

Page count: 116 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Official book description:
Amber Wong has landed her dream job at the Stratford Festival, and life is looking good. Sure, she hasn’t had sex in so long that her condoms have expired, but she’ll just pick up some new ones, along with some discounted Christmas chocolate, at the grocery store.

And that’s where she runs into Dr. Sebastian Lam, the son of her parents’ close friends, whom she hasn’t seen in years. He’s moved back to Ontario, newly single, and… Oh my God. He’s really hot.

The attraction is mutual and no-strings-attached sex is the perfect arrangement for both of them, since Amber has sworn off dating after a string of terrible boyfriends.

But what if their families find out they’re spending time together and start interfering in their lives? That would be a disaster.

Even worse? If they develop feelings for each other, given a relationship is the last thing Amber wants right now…

In this, the fourth and final of Jackie Lau's novellas set around holidays, the youngest Wong sibling, all of whom were set up on disastrous blind dates by their mother and grandmother during A Match Made for Thanksgiving, finally finds her HEA, with one of her older brother's best friends, no less. Ms. Lau really is working to get all the popular tropes into her novellas. Neither Amber nor Sebastian are looking for anything serious, and meet by chance at a convenience store. There is clearly an attraction between them, and they decide that since they are both single, they may as well enjoy some no strings attached fun for a while - which of course gets a lot more complicated the more time they spend with one another.

- This book is super sex-positive. There is not a hint of slut-shaming at any point. It's not often, even in romance, that you get the presence and enthusiastic use of sex toys in more than one scene, but more importantly - they use lube! I literally cannot remember EVER coming across the use of lube in smexy times in a contemporary romance between a man and a woman, and I've read a LOT of romances. There was an even article on Smart Bitches a few months back complaining about the complete lack of this in romance. So yay for that!
- Points for having a very well-endowed hero and acknowledging that it's going to cause some challenges and that considerations need to be made in the bedroom department. Very realistic, super unusual and extremely refreshing to read. The book gets an extra half a star just for that.

What I really liked:
-That Amber does crafting like cross-stitch and crochet (sometimes to hilarious results) and enjoys baking shows.
- That Sebastian is a very imaginative and considerate lover, who understands that being blessed in the pants department requires care and preparation.
- That both protagonists always make sure they have the enthusiastic consent of the other.
- The food descriptions, like always (although boba tea is disgusting. Blech, semolina ball - fight me!)

What I didn't like so much:
- The interfering and nosy relatives on either side. I get that it's a feature and that it in many ways was one of the obstacles that Amber and Sebastian had to work through, but by book 4, the zany grandmother just got on my nerves and much of the rest of the older family members, on either side of the couple just made me cringe and want to skim the parts where they showed up.
- Sebastian's mother was completely out of line and her judgmental attitude towards Amber made me want to slap her.

Jackie Lau continues to write comforting, satisfying romances between adults who know what they want and aren't afraid to communicate with one another. There is very little drama here, just a sweet, well-developed love story.

Judging a book by its cover: Yet another cute, cartoony cover, with delicious baked goods and associations to breakfast all around. The hero does make the heroine a very sweet and special breakfast, and I'm glad the cover designers went with donuts rather than boba tea as the thing to focus on, image wise.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Thursday 2 April 2020

#CBR12 Books 13-15: "The Redhead trilogy" by Alice Clayton

Combined page count: 960 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Grace Sheridan is 33. She's an aspiring actress who completely failed to make any kind of impression her first go-around in Hollywood. After a few years away from the limelight, when she went a bit reclusive and gained far too much weight, she's now healthy and happy and back in Los Angeles, temporarily living with her BFF Holly, who also happens to be a very successful talent agent, while waiting for her new house to be redone. Grace isn't really looking to date anyone, but when she meets Jack Sheridan, she's very quickly swept off her feet.

Jack Sheridan is 24 and very likely to become a massive movie star once the time travel adventure movie based on a series of sexy romance short stories is released. Jack plays the Super Sexy Scientist Guy who travels through time, romancing women in each time period and the movie is one of the most anticipated properties in Hollywood. He's tall, gorgeous, smart, funny, has an incredible English accent and already a considerable fan base. He's instantly smitten with Grace and determined that they have a 'tryst', but no matter how off the charts the chemistry between Grace and him is, publicity-wise, it would be best if Super Sexy Scientist Guy remains single and available in the eyes of his adoring public. Dating a woman nearly a decade older than him would certainly not be advisable. Any romancing would, therefore, have to take place away from the prying eyes of the paparazzi and celebrity journalists.

I'm reviewing this trilogy of contemporary romances as one because I'm not entirely sure I agree that there is enough story or character development to have these extended into three whole books. There is maximum two books worth of story here, probably more like one and a half. The rest is sex scenes. So many sex scenes. By the middle of the second book, I was skimming these scenes, because they were all much of a muchness and really didn't add anything to the further development between the characters. If Alice Clayton had cut about 80% of the extensive and after a while, really rather repetitive sex scenes, and streamlined a bit more of the rest of the plot (there didn't exactly need to be quite so much behind the scenes in show business stuff), this could easily have been one or two books, which would still be a lot more steamy than your regular contemporary romance.

I'm also reviewing the whole trilogy as one because it's now been about a month and a half since I finished the books, and I no longer remember which events happened in which books, they all blur together into one big whole.

What I liked about the books:
- Grace is a fun heroine. She doesn't really want to become huge and she certainly doesn't want to be a favoured target of the paparazzi and gossip press. Once it becomes clear that she and Jack are actually an item, she faces all sorts of crap because of her age (clearly at past thirty she's nearly a crone), her general looks and especially her body size. I liked that after a certain point, Grace refused to give in to the pressure and stood up to the body shamers publically.
- I liked the friendships Grace has. She's extremely close with her agent, and later also becomes close with an old college friend, who writes the off-Broadway production that brings Grace a relative level of fame once it gets picked up as a TV show.
- A lot of the early romance between Grace and Jack is very sweet.

What I didn't like so much:
- I've already mentioned that the books are way too long and feature a frankly ridiculous amount of love scenes. There's not enough plot to sustain three whole books, and padding them out with chapter upon chapter of smexy times doesn't good storytelling make.
- The love triangle that is introduced between Grace, Jack and Grace's old college friend, who she once had a massive crush on.
- Grace's crazy insecurities ruining Jack's opening night and the drama both leading up to and following on from that event.
- The whole storyline where Jack's fame goes to his head and he goes off the rails, drinking and partying and being led astray by douche-canoes. It goes on for too long, and I did not feel Jack necessarily groveled enough to get Grace's forgiveness. It's not a very good romance when I feel the heroine may be better off with someone else.

These books were a fun read, but I had to skim a lot more of books two and three than I entirely liked. Alice Clayton's Hudson Valley series feature books that are a lot better paced.

Judging the books by its cover: The covers are quite cute, with the pretty, redheaded cover model partially visible in each of them. They convey a playful tone, which fits well with the books. The plain, white backgrounds of books 1 and 2 could have been more exciting, though.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.